This Sunday’s Gospel lends itself to the sacraments.
The fact that Our Lord could heal a blind man by an invisible act of the will, but instead spits onto the ground to create a muddy ointment speaks volumes about not only the sacraments, but also sacramentality and the Incarnation.
While researching my homily, I remembered Pope Francis’ currently unfolding catechesis on the sacraments.
Since Pope John XXIII (I think), the pope has addressed the crowds in St Peter’s Square every Wednesday morning, before leading them in the Angelus. I don’t know if John and his two immediate successors prepared systematic talks, or spoke on ad hoc subjects, in response to church feasts and current affairs. I do know that Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, used their Wednesday addresses to expound on specific themes, creating discrete series which spanned months and even years.
Pope John Paul II obviously accrued a great many series in the Wednesday audiences he delivered over a twenty-six year pontificate. But his most notable Wednesday catechesis is undoubtedly his “Theology of the Body.” This series constitutes 129 addresses, delivered over five years, including interruptions. It derived from, and developed, university lectures Wojytla delivered, and a book he published, many years before becoming pope. (The catechesis is available in book form as Man and Woman He Created Them: a theology of the body.)
Pope Benedict’s most notable catechesis, I’d argue, is his series on the Church Fathers. This constitutes 52 audiences, delivered over two years, which blows out to 108 audiences over four years if one also includes Benedict’s catechesis on men and women saints in the Middle and Modern Ages. These meditations bear shining witness to a lifetime of scriptural and patristic scholarship.
If we characterise John Paul as a philosopher pope, and Benedict as a theologian pope, I think Francis could be characterised as a pastor pope, in the tradition of St Pius X and Bl John XXIII. Where John Paul develops Christian anthropology, and Benedict illuminates our rich patrimony, Francis offers the faithful memorable illustrations of the Faith and practical advice on how to interiorise it. Hence his present catechesis on the sacraments is a boon to preachers. Or to this one, anyway!
Catechesis of the Popes is an excellent resource on John Paul and Benedict’s Wednesday addresses, but it hasn’t been maintained the last 12 months, so it’s not so good on Francis’ audiences. Fortunately, you can catch up on Francis’ series on the sacraments at the Holy See’s website — an activity I highly recommend.